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CLEVELAND (WJW)– Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish emphasized the importance of wearing a mask during his coronavirus news conference on Friday.

Budish applauded the actions of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to mandate face coverings, and repeatedly called wearing a mask a necessity. He admitted that most people don’t want to wear one, but said it’s a better alternative to shutting businesses down again.

“Just wear a darn mask,” he said during the video news conference.

As of Friday, there were 8,786 total cases of COVID-19 with 393 deaths from the virus in Cuyahoga county, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Cuyahoga County saw an increase of 268 cases and 10 fatalities since Thursday.

Cuyahoga County continues to rank second in the state for coronavirus cases and deaths. It is one of 12 counties in Level 3 of Ohio’s Public Health Advisory Alert System, which measures an area’s risk for the virus. Counties in Level 3 fall under Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s mask mandate for public areas.

Cuyahoga County Medical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett said about 3,000 fewer tests were performed this week compared to the previous few weeks, which she attributed to the holiday weekend. But the percent positive continues to dramatically rise.

Gullett said the percent positive was pretty high in March, April and May with limited testing. Two weeks ago, the percent positive was 3.7 percent, last week it was 5.9 percent and this week it was 8.8 percent, according to the medical director. She said that indicates a lot of infection in the community.

Cuyahoga County Board of Health Commissioner Terry Allan said the mask order makes good sense and compared it to the county’s work to make indoor spaces smoke free.

“This transition and this rating is justified. We are very concerned about the surge in cases,” Allan said. He said there is also a rise in positivity rates in the county because of the increase in cases in young people, which is a national trend.

“Our young people are not invincible and have consequences for their parents and grandparents,” Allan said.

Romona Brazile, with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, echoed Allan’s concerns about the younger population, saying the median age for cases continues to drop. She said there are cases linked to travel, dinners and parties; many who are unaware they are sick.

Budish said violation of the state’s mask order is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 90 days in jail and a $750 fine, but he hopes they will not be necessary. He said people in violation will be contacted and if there are serious complaints, the sheriff’s department or local law enforcement has the ability to act.

To report businesses or individuals not wearing masks in Cuyahoga County, call 216-698-5050.

The board of health’s call center is receiving 200 to 300 calls a day about testing, crowding, masking for workers and social distancing, according to Allan. He said MetroHealth reported its COVID-19 help line has tripled in volume.

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